Tom died on December 10, 2009. I never knew him, but he was made of the stuff that we all hope we’ll find in our genes when we face life’s challenges. This month, thanks to Andrew Westoll’s book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery, I had the wonderful and awful opportunity to meet Tom and other “retired” research chimpanzees.
Westoll tells the story of chimpanzees from LEMSIP, one of the infamous primate research laboratories. He tells of their rescue by Gloria Grow, who gives the chimpanzees a chance for some small degree of normalcy at her Fauna Foundation sanctuary. But he does much, much more than that. He honors his readers by letting us experience deep and honest empathy for real beings.
The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is not a fictionalized attempt to play with our emotions. It is not a tale of make-believe corporate villains and sexy primatologists. This is the real deal, and Westoll's true narrative hits multiple targets with unnerving precision. The targets? The heart, which aches for these chimpanzees and for the people who are their caregivers. The gut, which wrenches with the realization that nearly a thousand chimpanzees -- still in laboratories -- are experiencing the sickening trauma that created havoc with these lives. And the head that reels with the absolute certainty that research on chimpanzees must stop. Now.
Mr. Westoll has done all of us a favor by writing so beautifully about these chimpanzees. In the end, his sensitive yet vivid portrayal gives us more than knowledge... it gives us the moral challenge to right this dreadful wrong.
So many people are now trying to right the wrong. Giving testimony at the recent federal meetings considering the use of chimpanzees in research, Theodora Capaldo, speaking for Project Release & Restitution, tried to help committee members visualize the too real consequences of research when she described the heartbreaking results of Tom’s autopsy. (If you want to read about the devastation done to Tom’s body, see page 8 of Theodora’s written testimony.)
We need to find a way to honor Tom, permanently. Getting chimpanzees out of research and into sanctuaries would be a fitting honor.